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Intros – The BEST place to explore Jazz Chords

As you know, It is a lot of fun to play Jazz chords and check out beautiful progressions, and the best place to put those chords to work is in intros for a songs! I am going to show you 7 common intro types with variations, but I will also show you some concepts that help you take them further and make them your own!

And, I’ll add some stories about how intros and beautiful harmony can get you in a lot of trouble with the singer! Let’s get nerdy with some harmony!

#1 Turnaround – It’s better than you think

The first one is the trusted old I VI II V, I am going to start by not using the VI from the key but use a secondary dominant instead because we want an intro to move forward and create energy that takes us to the song. Check out how I am relying on the top-note melody here.

As you probably noticed, the melody on top of the chords is what makes it work, and I use a motif to keep it moving along. I play the turnaround twice because a 4- or 8-bar intro feels more natural. 2 bars feel a little short, unless it’s a ballad.

Turnarounds are great intros, they set up the tonality, the time, and the mood, and as you will see, you can do a lot with them. They even work when you just use shell-voicings, like this next example where  I am also adding a passing chord. Passing chords can be simple: Just think about them as chords sliding to the target chord,

that is often easier than trying to explain them with a lot of complicated music theory, it’s about how it sounds in the end:

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The trick is to make it surprising enough without getting too vague, I still screw that up when I make intros now and again, but I have to admit that I also like taking risks it comes with the territory.

Let me show you two ways to make the turnaround a little more catchy, I’ll add some passing chords and notice how the Cmaj7 in the 2nd turnaround is reharmonized with a chord that really wants to move on and resolve. After this, I’ll show you a beautiful suspension idea that works well with turnaround intros:

Let me start with the substitution warning: Explaining everything with substitutions is not very helpful. if you substitute chords then there is supposed to be a link between the two chords, and that is not always the case. Here, the Bb7 that I use in the place of a Cmaj7 is a good example,

It does not make sense to call Bb7 a substitution of a Cmaj7, it is just a different way of letting the harmony flow, and trying to force some sort of relationship between the two gets silly. In the first turnaround,

I am also adding the Bb7 as a passing chord.

That is also a good trick to know, moving from I to VI, that works very often and sounds beautiful!

Here’s a great trick: To avoid boring repeats you can resolve after one turnaround but then suspend the resolution and the tonic chord. That is an incredibly beautiful sound. I am using a bVI and a bII or Neapolitan minor subdominant in this example, but there are other options. These two chords are something you want to remember because they are practical for a lot of things:

I love that Cmaj7(13) sound! (EX) and also this way of arpeggiating chords with a sort of string skipped arpeggiation.

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Minor subdominants are amazing and I will put them to use as a part of a modulation in a very surprising and elegant example later, but the bVI sound is already in the next example, and let’s just admit it, intros are just an excuse to mess around with some great sounding harmony!

#2 Creative Turnaround Reharmonization

You can also have turnarounds that start pretending to modulate. Here’s one that I love to use. It is sometimes referred to as the Ladybird or Tadd Dameron turnaround, but people say that referring to the “all maj7” version,

which I find a lot less appealing. This one takes a trip to the bVI which is a beautiful very Giant Steps-sounding progression:

Check out this extended version of that concept leaning heavily on Giant steps combined with minor subdominant chords. This one moves around so much that I think it works better when combined with a more standard turnaround, otherwise, it gets a bit too vague, but of course, it is a lose still a nice way to show off your skills with harmony…

But instead of adding more chords then you can also create other vamps with fewer chords that you can repeat as an intro, let’s look at some common examples of that.

#3 Fewer Chords More Color

The named turnaround already suggests movement, and if you reduce what is going on then the turnarounds you have seen until now have really just been ways to embellish a I-V progression.

But instead of having a lot of movement and a lot of different chords then you can also use fewer chords, But here, the repeated I V gets too boring, you need to make sure that the chords are interesting enough.

An obvious option is using I and a tritone substitution of V, so in this case, Db7 instead of G7. Notice that I am approaching it as a riff or groove here:

I tend to think of these as setting up a groove until the melody begins, and I also mostly use them when the first part of the melody fits over that groove, like “I’ll Remember” or “Invitation”. Not using something that is a dominant resolution often works better and avoids becoming boring, so a good option is another minor subdominant: the backdoor dominant:

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An option that is a bit more adventurous is using the Neapolitan subdominant:

Both of these are fairly common with bossanovas. But even using all this amazing harmony it quickly sounds very similar to how the song sounds, and maybe you want a different effect or sound, so that is where pedals become useful!

#4 Using Pedals in Jazz

The type of pedals that I am talking about is not the reverb, delay and overdrive kind, it is of course a pedal point. They are great for setting up tempo and tonality while also wanting the resolve which makes us want to hear the song begin. It is so strong that it really got me in trouble one time, I’ll get to that in a bit Check out this example:

Most of the time you use the dominant as a pedal note, and in this example, I was also using the dominant chord and a suspended version of that to create movement over the pedal.

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But there are a few other great options to explore. You can shift the pedal point like this which I call the TV-game show pedal, which may be a term I invented:

Borrowing from Minor is also a great sound, and when you do then you can just stick to the sus chord which is then a pedal point of a Phrygian chord:

To me, the resolution to a maj7 chord when the whole thing sounded dark and minor is satisfying, I like using that one. On a cafe gig with a singer, while I was studying, I once managed to make a mess of a song by using a pedal point intro. It was a regular gig and it was pretty long so I felt confident trying something new. Without thinking too much about it I decided to set the song up with a pedal point on the Backdoor dominant, so Bb but then for a song in C. Without any preparation and that really didn’t work, so we ended up adding a 2nd intro which was a 4-bar turnaround so the singer could find the right key and get over the shock of the first chord.

There is another way to use a pedal that is also really useful, let’s look at that:

#5 The Other Pedal

This type of intro combines Turnarounds and Pedal points. You play the 5th as a pedal note and then play a turnaround over it. Best of both worlds! Here’s a basic example:

And there are not that many variations of this but you could do a Ladybird Turnaround version as well which has a nice dark sound. After this one, I’ll talk about a different type of progression that is sort of unique and very common as an intro and a reharmonization!

ex 14 (not in the video?)

Let me know what your favorite intro or progression is in the comments, maybe I can learn some new stuff!

Before we go to a different type of progression, then leave a comment if you know a type of intro that I didn’t talk about!

#6 The #IV subdominant intro

This is a great progression to know, it is almost a complete overview of all the chord categories of tonal harmony and it is great for intros and outros, but also reharmonizing standards. First try and listen:

So you have a #IVø, a IVm, then a III, a #IVdim inversion, a subdominant and then Dbmaj7 as another minor subdominant before getting to the Cmaj7. It sort of covers the whole spectrum except the dominant.

Sometimes you will also see a variation that is turning the chords into a chain of II V’s but when you do that then you can’t really put the root in the melody which is a big part of the original.

After this then I’ll show a great harmonic trick that works on most songs, sounds great but can get you fired.

#7 Use The Song (with a twist?)

One of the most common intros is to use the ending of the song, either the last 4 or 8 bars to set up the song. It’s very safe but you also immediately really set up everything and there is a way to make it very very surprising, in fact getting into the “you’re fired” surprising territory, but first the original

That’s a great way to set it up and you don’t have to be as clear with the melody as I am here, but check out how you can use a bVI to have a great modulation in the intro, though again one that I have had to explain to “surprised” soloists on gigs sometimes because it is difficult to hear if you don’t get a warning.

The concept is surprisingly simple: you play your intro using the song but in the key where the key you want to end in is the bVI, at the end you go to bVI and continue to the song.

Even if it does get you fired then it is a great sound, and as you can tell I enjoy going into details and trying out a lot of things with chords. It is a great way to explore and learn about harmony on the guitar. You want to learn what you can do with chords by adding interesting melodies, inner voices, and suspensions and that is what I talk about in this video which is a great exercise for digging deep into chords and harmony. Check it out! Learn Jazz, Make Music!

One Of The Best Exercises For Jazz Chords (and most fun)

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Jazz Chords – The 3 Rules That Make You Sound Pro!

I am incredibly lucky that I get to jam with great musicians, and one of the reasons for that is something that Jazz beginners miss: You need to be able to lay down great-sounding chords that feel comfortable to play over. If you can’t play chords and comp then nobody wants to play with you. Let me show you 3 rules that your comping needs to follow, and don’t worry none of them are about difficult complicated chords and with the 3 rules, you can start to play beautiful and swinging comp, and even though I am starting with really simple chords, you can go as far as you want with this, check it out!

Let’s take a simple medium Bb blues, with a focus on playing as if you are in a duo with a horn, a vocalist, or another guitarist which means that when you are comping then you are responsible for three of the main ingredients of the song:

The Tempo, The Groove, and The Harmony.

#1 Be Clear

You need to be clear! Make it easy to understand what you are playing, where the time is, and how the groove sounds.

If we start with Time and rhythm: There is a great Peter Bernstein quote: “Don’t Be Afraid of the one when you are comping” – What that means is you have to communicate the groove to both the soloist and the audience, so stay grounded and play a chord on beat 1 often. That’s what makes it comfortable for the soloist and easy to follow for the audience. Be Clear!

When it comes to notes then being clear is about working with simple chords with a bass note

Like this:

I am playing shell-voicings here, so these easy 3-note versions of the chords: Bb7 and Eb7, Fm7 Bb7.

A trick I am using for Getting the groove across is that I split the shell-voicing into two layers: bass and chord,

You’ll see later just how much you can open that up and how powerful that is! Here it is helping me get the swing feel in there. Like this:

Notice how having two layers already is a melody, similar to how a drumkit has a bassdrum and a snare drum for comping.

A mistake that I sometimes hear is when a student plays too many sustained chords. Long sustained chords make it hard to feel the groove, and that works better if you are playing with somebody else who is laying down the groove, so try to avoid this:

And aim more for this:

Let’s look at the next rule which is more about HOW you play before getting to what you can do with the chords:

Be Connected

Be connected! This topic often concerns something that seems scary to most students trying to learn comping.

As you know, some people have the reputation of being magic at comping behind soloists, think of Herbie Hancock behind Miles or Wayne Shorter, or somebody like Wynton Kelly behind Wes Montgomery, but what makes them magic?

A lot of it is about having the right balance between 3 things:

  1. What is going on in the music or song
  2. What is the soloist playing
  3. What can I do with the harmony and the rhythm

The first two are about the most important part of playing Jazz chords, which is not rhythm, extensions or voice-leading. The most important part of playing Jazz chords is listening, and knowing when to play. You need to listen to the entire band and to the soloist. You can make horrible mistakes with that, for example, make sure that you don’t play a million syncopated chords

if the feel is more relaxed and open and the rest of the band sounds like this:

Another pitfall, that I see in lessons where I am teaching comping is that it turns into being about ear training and being able to, on the spot, transcribe and analyze everything being played while you are also playing the chords. That is not really how it works, of course, you want to hear and catch as much as you can, but you should also keep in mind that if the soloist is really busy and playing a lot then you don’t have to do so much, and you can even stop playing for a bit, or at least pull back to make it very basic. What is also important to keep in mind is that even if you know exactly what is being played then you are much more likely to get in the way if you also play a lot.

So you want to be connected with the song and the soloist so that what you play fits the mood and the energy and is nice to play over. But you also want to be connected to what YOU are playing.

That connection needs to be there, and it is so important to work on getting it in there so that it doesn’t sound like we are starting a new song every 4 beats. There is a great fairly simple way to start working on this: You need to learn to listen to yourself and you need to learn to think in phrases!  The best way to work on this is to start with the rhythm, and I’ll show you some tricks with the chords in the next part of the video. An easy way to train this is to repeat stuff through a song, and you will find that a lot of soloists find that very nice to play over because it is predictable and easy to both play off and get ideas from and you can rely on it.

So spend some time just taking a riff or rhythm through the song and then slowly start to develop or vary it, but keep the longer story in there as well! Once you can do that you can always open it up.

Make sure to practice with a metronome that is the fastest way to get better time and really be able to lay down a groove! If your groove sounds good with a metronome then your groove sounds good. If your groove sounds good with a backing track then maybe the backing track sounds good. I’ve said it before. Now we need top open up the chords!

Be Creative

We all want to play big beautiful chord voicings because that’s probably what we love about jazz chords: all the colors and extensions,  but at the same time it is much more important to get the rhythm right and not get in the way of the soloists or the other band members when you’re comping. If you are playing with a drummer and your rhythms don’t match that will sound horrible. When it comes to chords then If you check, you would probably be amazed at how most people you admire play very basic and simple chords most of the time. The groove and clarity is the most important!

So a good place to start is to add some forward Motion with the help of some easy and basic passing chords. As you will see, There’s no difficult theory or complicated formulas needed, I am just playing something that’s a half step, or a fret,  away from the chord that I want to go to and using that to drive the progression forward with some nice sounding energy! Something like this.

So I am going to the Eb7 from above and approaching the Bb7 from below, simple stuff just sliding the chord in place.

And of course, you can also use that if you just want to change things up while you’re on the same chord for a longer time.

Earlier in the video I showed you how to split the chord in two parts so that you have a bass note and a chord, but check out how you can take that up a few levels because that goes really really far and you can do all sorts of things!

You can probably tell that this is the same principle:  First playing the complete chord, maybe a simple version, to set up and be clear about where we are in the song. But after that then I don’t play the root anymore and instead, I am free to play a chord fill in between.

As you can see then I’m using all these other kind of voicings that are kind of coming out of the shell-voicing but also some drop2 and some triads. You can really do a lot with this and it’s a great way to create some fills. It is also great for adding some blues flavor to the whole thing.  Like this:

Getting Back To The Blues

I am essentially using the same as what I would do in a solo, so grace notes for the 3rd and making it short and simple prases that stay around the triad with the melody.

And once you clearly establish the chord, then you don’t have to play complete simple voicings on every 1 of every bar, that can be much more open, even completely rootless if that fits. I didn’t do anything with the bass yet, so let’s do that!

Bass!

Thinking like this you can also turn it around and then say well I want to have more movement in the bass and add either small parts of bass movement or walking bass like this:

or go to a complete section where you’re playing walking bass all the time, really adding that quarter-note drive which moves the whole thing forward and sounds great!

Once you start to add other chord voicings and complete chord solo fills then you also need to have a way to think about the chords that tie all those different voicings together. I go over a simple system for that important process in another video, and it is a lot easier than you might think and also sort of coming from how Joe Pass approaches chords. Check it out!

The Biggest Misunderstanding About Jazz Chords And How To Quickly Fix It

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This is Missing In Your Comping and Nobody Is Teaching It

When it comes to comping then you have lots of books and online lessons on learning chord voicings, and voice-leading, but when it comes to turning that into something that really works then there is really not a lot of advice available.

But there is actually a place to get some inspiration and strategies for developing your comping, which is what I want to show you here.

Probably a lot of you are now thinking that this is about rhythms, and that is sort of true but it is actually more than that, and I am 99% sure that  your solos will also benefit from looking at things from this perspective, because there are things in this that can really open up your playing in other ways as well.

A Blues with some Basic Ingredients

For this lesson, I am going to use a simple C blues as an example, and since this is not about using incredibly fancy chord voicings, the most chromatic voice-leading tricks or the hippest extensions then I am going to just use two different melody notes for each chord. Extensions and voicings are nice too, but that is not the focus right now and they will just become distractions that take away from what you should focus on, and I think you will see why.

The chords are kept pretty minimal but it is still more than enough to make some good music.

I will show you 3 types of exercises so that you can actually get your chords to sound like comping, and maybe open up how you think about phrasing and rhythm in general.

#1 Longer Phrases

When you focus on voicings and voice-leading then it is about either what notes you put together or how you get to the next chord in the song.

Of course, both of these things are important, but you can also see that when you focus on that then you are zoomed in and at most looking one bar ahead, and you are almost never playing a song with two bars, there is a whole form.

I don’t know about you, but the people in the rhythm section that I usually admire the most are actually the drummers. That is where the groove and the interaction are both clearly present and where the dynamics of the song are being created. A part of that is probably also that the musician that I really have to connect with when I am comping is the drummer, and for a drummer it is not about voice-leading or extensions, so how do they practice?

Rhythm is melody!

Where most guitar examples are one or two bar rhythms then drummers tend to do exercises that are over longer parts of the song, and working on something that is a combination of different patterns. An exercise might look like this:

Very often then the entire groove is not written out so it is assumed that the ride cymbal is being played, here the highhat is included, but what you want to focus on here is the snare drum rhythm, the rest is not important, you essentially want to read it as if it looks like this:

And this rhythm you can use as a comping pattern on guitar.

If you apply it to the first 4 bars of the Blues then you get:

The big advantage here is that you are starting to hear the rhythm as a melody, and phrases that are not just on a single chord but are a part of a longer sentence with a repeated part and a conclusion.

So phrases that contain smaller parts which fit together. That sounds like something that could be useful for other things than comping?

Thinking in 4 and 8-bar phrases

A side-note to this is that it makes a lot of sense to work on thinking of bar 4 as a conclusion, as the end of the sentence. That is also how our sense of form works, we feel things in groups of 4 or 8 bars and the more you play like that the better you feel that which will later eventually make you a lot stronger and more free.

There is an interview with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter where they talk about how they feel the 12-bar blues as groups of bars together so that a Blues chorus is essentially a 3/4 bar. If you start feeling the form like that then you get a lot of freedom to do stuff in between which of course also describes how they often played.

Of course you want to take a 4-bar pattern like this and go through the whole blues form as well, but let’s move on to how you level this up to get some great comping rhythms going!

The method and exercises that I am showing you here was not how I learned to comp, but I sort of wish it was, because it would have made it a lot easier, and I have seen this work really well for my students. The way I learned was by being around great drummers and having the good fortune to be told about how comping worked as an interaction between drums and guitar, or drums and piano. What I am showing you here will help you listen to yourself to play something that makes sense and tells a story but it will also help you play natural phrases that a drummer can work with so that if you listen to each other then you can also connect and make music together.

#2 Making Your Own Phrases

You can of course start checking out Jazz Drumming lessons on comping to find more patterns like this, that is a great thing to do, and please leave a comment if you have some good resources like books or online lessons, but you can also start creating your own by taking the rhythms you already know, or listening to drummers that are great at this like Philly Joe Jones or Jimmy Cobb and take phrases from them and combine that with what you already know.

The important thing is that you take a step back and worry less about what extensions moving from the 9th to the b13, and instead try to play some strong melodic rhythms, some phrases that last 4 or 8 bars and make sense like that. Often listening to big band can be very useful for this, because you have the right types of simple melodies and strong rhythms in there.

If you start with the previous example but then change it up then you can get something like this for the next 4 bars of the blues, with the same format of a repeating figure and a phrase to end it all:

 

But you can also introduce more variation, for example going back to the original motif like now also changing or developing one of the repeats:

And really what you are doing making these is developing your ability to hear rhythms that make sense, and also listen to whether the rhythms you put together make sense as a melody for you.

How Wes Uses This In Solos

Another thing is that this can really open up is your soloing: Maybe take a listen to your solos and ask yourself how often they have phrases that last 4 bars with a beginning, a middle and an end? Maybe taking some time to think like this and incorporating that into your solos could be useful as well, there could be a video in that, et me know! The king of this is Wes! If you listen to how Wes improvises then you can certainly hear repeating patterns and motivic development.

Green = Call – Red = Response

You Can’t Practice Comping

Very often when I do a video on comping then I get a comment that tells me that comping is about interaction and therefore you can’t practice it. In my experience, that is not true, and the next exercise is actually about interacting but you are playing alone. Besides that, then there are so many skills involved with comping that you have plenty to work on even without interacting with a soloist and a rhythm section. Simply because you need to Play the chords, keep time, make sure that what you end up with makes sense and has the right colors, and the easier that is and the more freedom you have and it will be the easier to listen to what is going on around you. You also don’t only practice soling with a band, but there you have to interact as well, I hope you do at least…

#3 Call-response

Until now it has been about written exercises and composing, but you can also start to incorporate  improvisation so that you can work on hearing the rhythms in real time and get it to fit together while creating phrases, and this exercise can also be incredibly powerful for solos, but I will show you that in a bit.

An easy way to do that is to start with the layout from the written exercise, and in fact this is also about interacting because you play the written part and then treat that as a call which you then respond to with the next phrase which is your response. A chart using the first one-bar rhythm would look like this:

and with that you can pick a comfortable tempo and then start to fill in the empty bars and see what you come up with. You listen and then you play what fits with that.

If you get stuck then you can also stop and try to explore it out of time

As I said then this is also a very useful exercise if you are working on getting your solo phrases to go from licks next to each other and become more of a coherent story.

A simple version of that could be something like this where I repeat a first phrase and then develop material that is a response:

And your solos can also really improve from working on this:

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The Quick Way To Learn Jazz Comping – Simple & Direct

One of the nicest things about playing jazz is Jazz comping where you play fills and small melodic statements behind the soloist. In this video I am going to go over a very easy way to get started playing jazz chords like this, starting with a very simple version of the chords and an easy way to add melodies to these chords.

I am going to demonstrate this on a Bb jazz blues. Starting with reduced shell voicings and expanding this into a set of chords that you can make melodies with while comping. I also demonstrate how this might work on the blues.

Reducing the voicings for comping

The first thing we need to do is to find some really easy chords for the blues. The way I am going to do that in this video is to just play the 3rd and 7th of each chord. This is also a great way to practice knowing the notes of the chords.

Bb7: Ab,D
Eb7: G,Db
G7: B,F
Cm7: Bb, Eb
F7: A, Eb

Before we start adding different variations to the chords to open up how we play them the we can Take this through the Blues this sounds like this:

Getting more options for each chord when comping

This way of playing the chords is pretty easy and is actually giving us a very clear sound of the chords.

To be able to play some more interesting melodies we need have some different melody notes. We already have one, namely the top note of each chord.

The way to do this is to add two more notes on the next string.

Bb7: D F G, 3,5,13
Eb: Db Eb F b7,1,9
G7: F, Ab, Bb b7,b9,#9
Cm7: Eb, F, G 3,11,5
F7: Eb,Gb,Ab b7,b9,#9

Before we start improvising with this we can play this through the Blues as an exercise:

To get started improvising it can be a good idea to work a bit per chord. In the video I give a short example on a Bb7 that you can check out.

Jazz Comping in Action

Once you get a bit more familiar with the chords you can play through the blues likes this:

Make chord voicings easier to remember.

Connecting different types of voicings is important because it makes it easier to use, remember and understand

An important thing to notice here is that the chords on Bb7 are really just like rootless versions of chords you probably already know. If we think about the chords as different variations based on the middle tritone Ab D (marked red) then we have this:

Take your comping further

If you want to check out more on how to practice and think about comping you can check out this lesson on comping on Autumn Leaves:

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You can also download the PDF of my examples here:

The Best Jazz Comping Concept Awesome and Easy

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